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11 tips for conquering life with kids when being pulled in a dozen directions

I recognized them at the Kindergarten Family Dinner. Every September produces a new crop of the species—the parents whose eldest is starting kindergarten. They're the ones trying to get a five-year-old to eat the PTO's pizza offerings while chasing a toddler or swaying a baby in a carrier. Or both. They're frantic, confused, and maybe even a bit ashamed that they don't know what exactly they're doing. A mom I knew from preschool flashed me a panicked look as I approached. “How do people do this?" she spluttered without preamble.

By “this" I knew exactly what she meant: two adults, two jobs, two kids, two schools that close often and at random, rarely-overlapping intervals. Career advancement (or just not getting canned), soccer, family dinner, dentist appointments, the PTO, hypoallergenic birthday treats, playdates, after-school care. The freakin' Science Fair.

I had no magic bullet to offer. “Nobody knows what they're doing. Nothing makes sense and it's all a mess. Everybody's patching it together however they can." The look on her face as she received this information was equal parts frustration and relief.

It's true. And I think people need to hear it, to know they're not alone in this choppy surf. However, since this is my second ride on this merry-go-round, I do have some ideas about where to look for help.

1. Know what you're doing is really hard, and nobody else is acing it either

Look, we live in the only industrialized nation without mandated parental leave. Our public school calendars are calibrated for an agrarian society where children worked in the fields. Preschool and toddler care are astronomically expensive (my monthly bill last year was higher than my mortgage payment). Let's take a deep breath and just say, It's all cray-cray.

2. Construct your village

Reach out to other parents in your child's class and grade level. If you're not there to touch base at drop-off or pick-up time, look for school social events, a Facebook group for your school, and ask your child's teacher for an email list. (For heaven's sake, please let everybody have your email address. We all need each other.)

What are the other parents doing about after school care? What about that weird 10-minute window for drop-off when there's no parking? Be open about what you need, and look for openings to offer help where you can, whether it's sharing a nugget of information or offering a standing play date. It absolutely takes a village.

3. Sign 'em up

Sit down with a glass of wine and tackle that stack of papers that came home the first week of school. Clues are hiding within. The flyer for a kung fu class where the teacher walks her students from the school to her studio. Yes! The after-school enrichment program—Animation! Knitting!

One of the biggest mistakes I've committed over the years is not hiring enough child care. No guilt. You need coverage, and your kids are going to meet some fabulous people and try some amazing new things. By the same token, don't sign them up for things you need to drive them to at 3:30 pm, unless they can carpool with a peer (remember your village).

4. Seek flex, at work and at home

Full-time work is often more than 40 hours a week, but which 40? Take a look at your work week and consider proposing small or large restructuring that might improve the situation for everyone. You're being proactive about maximizing your productivity, not caving under unbearable time pressures! Ask your partner to do the same and multiply your flex. Ask other families how they manage. Some have one full-time worker and one part-time or more flexibly arranged schedule; some have grandparents and great babysitters in their back pockets (try not to die of jealousy). If you're thinking of changing jobs, make flexibility a priority; otherwise you might find yourself spending all of that hard-earned raise on additional child care.

5. Set boundaries

Saying no is hard, but let's meditate on this: What is enough?

Even when your insides are squirming with the desire to please everyone, you'll need to find your backbone. It's okay to fake it 'til you make it. Portray confidence as best you can and eventually you start to feel it.

Set the timer on your phone to go off 15 minutes before you have to leave work to pick up the kids, whatever time that is, and a second alarm when you really have to go. When the first one goes off, it's time to wrap things up. I use about five minutes to finish my train of thought and jot down notes for the next day, because I know that standing in the doorway of my supervisor's office can eat up the other ten. When that second alarm goes off, and she hears it, she knows what it means, and we both shrug. Gotta go!

Likewise, you don't have to make cupcakes for the bake sale. Schools have endless needs, but look for your niche. Choose one way to contribute, whether it's an evening of employing your design know-how on the PTO calendar, or attending once-a-month committee meetings, or just sending in money instead of hawking wrapping paper. (Bulletin: You don't have to sell wrapping paper to your colleagues.) Then let go of guilt, you're pitching in where you can.

6. Master the calendars

Spend an evening figuring out how to share calendars with people in Google Calendar or whatever program you use. If you're the person who takes the kids to soccer, but he's picking them up, you both need the sports schedule in your phones. Don't worry, you can control permissions so the folks at work can't see that you're at the podiatrist, they just see that you're busy. Add school closures, ballet recitals, music lessons.

Whether you use a paper calendar (like this one) or an electronic one, keep it consistent, keep it handy, and share the info with your partner and other caregivers. Evening check-ins with my partner have become a part of our routine; we both look at our calendars and tasks for the next day and make sure we're covered with pickups, drop-offs, permission slips, and the like.

7. Communicate often

When you're working, it's hard to get face time with your child's teacher. Don't feel bad, thank God for email and then use it. Most times it's easier to describe your kid's spelling foibles when she's not standing right there rooting through your purse for snacks. Make any requests clear and direct, and always thank them for their time, since answering emails often happens above and beyond their school days. If your child's teacher doesn't use email, send notes to the teacher using your kid's school folder or however he brings home school paperwork. For best results, use a sealed, labeled envelope.

8. Opt for easy

Cooking, bill-paying, house-cleaning, laundry, lawn care, how many of these things can you afford to outsource? Anything you can't hire out, demote it down the priorities list, then designate one person in your household who's responsible for it.

A playground conversation with another working mom contributed this “aha" moment when she said that now that her husband was in charge of all laundry, there was no discussing the laundry. It was his turf, end of story. She had taken complete management of the kitchen. Each partner gave the other their full confidence to handle their chores as they saw fit. Who takes out the trash? Who walks the dog? Talk these out with your partner, and try to relax your standards on these fronts too. I won't even tell you how long it's been since I mopped my kitchen floor.

9. Plan meals and shop once a week

This seems like it's going to be a pain in the ass. And the first three times you do it, it's totally a pain in the ass. After that, it's life-altering. All kinds of resources are popping up to help families with the perennial problem of walking in the door every evening with growling bellies and no idea what to cook. Some of my favorites are the meal-planning section of The Kitchn, the drag-and-drop meal planner from Cooking Light, and (yes, another parent taught me) Cookin' with Google, a custom search that lets you type in ingredients from your fridge and get recipes that use them.

Most Saturdays I construct my weekly plan with a mix of things that need used up before they rot, things I personally want to eat, and things I can make really quickly, taking the week's activities into account. This means that grocery shopping happens just once a week, and that saves me time and money. You can read more of my evangelizing about meal-planning here.

10. Make time for yourself

You're rolling your eyes at me right now, and I don't blame you. It sounds completely impossible. Periodically it gets that way for me too, and I have to steer myself back to self-care. I once took a night class on self-care, and just going to it once a week was fantastic. I want my kids to see me happy, and to know what I care about beyond my breakfast cereal preferences.

My husband is a musician and plays music one night a week. That night is sacred. I put the kids to bed, he picks up his guitar at a friend's house and for a few hours gets to nurture that thing he loved in the BC era (before children, before jobs became careers).

Even if you're sure you're too tired to leave the house, drag yourself to the closest cafe for a couple of hours, or take a walk, preferably with a friend who can laugh with you about all the ridiculous parts. Wherever you begin is a good place to begin.

11. Work to change it

Alongside all this flexing and stretching and talking about how mind-bendingly hard it all is, let's work on making it better, for everyone. When I rage about being squeezed from every angle, it helps to put some of that energy into advocating for change on a policy level. What would make it work better?

Organizations like Moms Rising focus on legislation for paid parental leave and paid sick leave on the state and federal levels. Apps like 5 calls make it easy to contact legislators, even if all you have is five minutes in the parking lot. Look for candidates in your own backyard who talk about the importance of family-friendly policies. Yep, most times these are going to be women.

In your own workplace, support flexible work policies and those who are using them, and work to create a culture where people can be vocal about their family needs without recrimination. Let's all make it better than we found it.

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

1. A brilliant double stroller

You've got more to carry—and this stroller gets it. The DEMI™ grow stroller from Nuna easily converts from a single ride to a double stroller thanks to a few easy-to-install accessories. And with 23 potential configurations, you're ready to hit the road no matter what life throws at you.

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2. A light car seat

Lugging a heavy car seat is the last thing a mama of two needs to have on her hands. Instead, pick up the PIPA™ lite, a safe, svelte design that weighs in at just 5.3 pounds (not counting the canopy or insert)—that's less than the average newborn! When you need to transition from car to stroller, this little beauty works seamlessly with Nuna's DEMI™ grow.

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3. A super safe car seat base

The thing new moms of multiples really need to get out the door? A little peace of mind. The PIPA™ base features a steel stability leg for maximum security that helps to minimize forward rotation during impact by up to 90% (compared to non-stability leg systems) and 5-second installation for busy mamas.

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4. A diaper bag you want to carry

It's hard to find an accessory that's as stylish as it is functional. But the Nuna diaper bag pulls out all the stops with a sleek design that perfectly conceals a deceptively roomy interior (that safely stores everything from extra diapers to your laptop!). And with three ways to wear it, even Dad will want to take this one to the park.

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5. A crib that travels

Getting a new baby on a nap schedule—while still getting out of the house—is hard. But with the SENA™ aire mini, you can have a crib ready no matter where your day takes you. It folds down and pops up easily for sleepovers at grandma's or unexpected naps at your friend's house, and the 360-degree ventilation ensures a comfortable sleep.

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.

I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child.

This was uncharted territory.

I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn't sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU'RE AMAZING!!" Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!"?

Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I'm sorry, um, can you hold her?" She held out her crying infant towards me.

“YES!" I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.

“I have four," I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn't chosen a psychopath.

“Me too," she smiled.

“Target with kids is hard," I said, “how old is she?"

“Four weeks," she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes, “thank you so much," she took back her baby and I watched her walk away.

No…thank you. I thought.

I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count.

I've stood sweating in this woman's exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I've felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I've felt so alone and so out of control.

I've thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.

I've pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I've felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.

But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper—hey, I get it, I've been here too—you're doing a great job.

This mama was brave.

She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I'm not alone.

I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.

Whatever stage I find myself at, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.

I'm not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I'm not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I'm not the only Mom to lose her temper. I'm not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.

Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn't met yet.

She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.

To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don't know how she felt. I don't know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don't know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.

I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.

I hope she felt like I was WITH her.

No judgement.

Just respect.

We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment."

It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one."

#Solidarity

Jessica writes at her blog Wonderoak. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We all know that being a mother brings many joys, but a phenomenal sex life is not usually one of them. While parenting with a partner can be the most beautiful bonding experience, it can also be a breeding ground for resentment, romantic disconnect and unsatisfying sex.

But all is not lost to a life with little ones. As a mom of two, I attest to the fact that parenthood can actually improve your sex life; and as a relationship coach, I know I'm not alone in that. But here's the thing: you have to give it some attention. Great sex doesn't just happen on its own.

A truly satisfying sex life after kids requires education, communication, commitment and confidence. It asks that you shift your attitude from seeing sex as a chore to something pleasurable that you have the privilege of doing with the partner you love.

And I'm here to show you how.

Here are six elements to have a great sex life after kids.

1. Time

A great sex life requires time. I know what you're thinking: there's already too much on your to-do list. But you're just as important as everything else, and you need to make pleasure a priority. Maybe you put the kids to bed 30 minutes early or swap babysitting nights with your sister-in-law for a pre-planned date night. But you need to find the time to focus on yourself as a woman and as a lover.

2. Sleep

You need sleep to feel like a human, and you need to feel like a human to rekindle your sex life. A 2015 study found that with just one more hour of sleep a night, women were 14% more likely to engage in a sexual activity the next day. So do whatever it takes to get more sleep; take two 20-minute naps or promise yourself one early bedtime a week and see the difference it can make.

3. Ask for help

Between picking up after the kids and laundry and dishes, household responsibilities can put a toll on your relationship. After all, they provide the perfect breeding ground for resentment; and, let's face it, resentment is the opposite of attraction. So ask for help. Yes, from your partner (research shows that sharing household responsibilities increases the frequency of sex a couple has), but also from the reinforcements. Call your mom or your best friend and ask for help, or even splurge on an agency to help you get things back in order.

4. Attitude

When you want a happy and healthy sex life, you need the right attitude—one that doesn't treat sex and intimacy like a chore, but enthusiastically embraces sex positivity. Although it sounds difficult, it's really just four principles.

First, make sex a PRIORITY, which may mean giving up an evening playing Candy Crush to have a romantic night with your man. Then you need to do some PLANNING and put sex on your calendar. Planning intimacy does not have to take the fun out of it, but instead builds the rhythm we need for spontaneous lovemaking to occur.

But you also need FLEXIBILITY to make a great sex life work, especially with parenthood. Is one of the kids sick? Push back your special night until tomorrow. Babysitter cancelled? It's okay to settle for Netflix and a quickie. Go with the flow a little more and you may be surprised what fun you can have. Finally, FOLLOW-THROUGH and commit to these principles. If you throw in the towel after the first roadblock, you're telling yourself and your man that your sex life isn't important enough to fight for, which only leads to more disappointment and resentment.

5. Sex toys

Sex toys aren't only for solo play, they can add fun and excitement when used with your partner. A toy, whether a vibrator or silk blindfold, brings newness to the bedroom, which can turn you on and inspire you to explore. Beyond their aphrodisiac effect, sex toys can give you the extra stimulation you need and ensure that you get your happy ending, too.

6. Sense of humor

Parenting can bring MAJOR frustration to your sex life, and when it goes unaddressed, it drives a wedge in your relationship. Don't let it. Approach parenting's chaos with a sense of humor. Share your oh-my-god experiences together and laugh about them. Embrace the crazy joy parenthood offers and use it as a connection point, something that ties you together, not tears you apart.

Mamas, I know you're exhausted. And I know sex is often the last thing on your mind. But I promise, if you put in a little bit of effort and dedication in your sex life, it pays back tenfold. You get better sex. Your relationship improves. And your partner transforms, once more, into your lover.

The mental load of motherhood is heavy, but it can be difficult to explain what it really feels like to others. It's that never-ending to-do list that has to get done, but only seems to get longer. It's the constant worry of having to get all of those things done, from routine check-ins to managing the emotional balance of the household.

Simply put, it's invisible work that has to be done by someone—and that usually falls on mama.

If you're having trouble explaining that load to others, whether it be friends or your partner, Karen Kleiman, a well-known international maternal mental-health expert, put it into words. And Molly McIntyre, an illustrator and comic artist drew beautiful images.




Illustrated by Molly McIntyre. Molly McIntyre is an illustrator and comic artist with a background in traditional printmaking and book arts techniques. Her illustrations have been featured in Bitch magazine, Everyday Feminism, ScaryMommy, Psychology Today, and more. She is currently working on a collection of comics about new motherhood, called Momzines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and young son.

Comics from Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, an accessible collection of comics and resources, releasing March 1st from Familius and available at bookstores everywhere.

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